Oct 142016



(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity.)

Broadly speaking, Dark Tranquillity’s career has been one characterised by successive sequences of sudden reinvention and steady refinement, with every major breakthrough followed in turn by a corresponding period of careful, if somewhat less impressive, polishing and fine-tuning.

It’s a pretty obvious pattern in hindsight. The early success of The Gallery was followed by The Mind’s I… the melodic, proggy proclivities of Projector were the jumping-off point for Haven… and then Damage Done, probably the biggest metamorphosis in the band’s career, in turn gave us both the oft-underrated Character and the (arguably) somewhat overrated Fiction.

Unfortunately it’s around this time that things get a little tricky, and we enter what has become a bit of a sensitive area for some fans, as there’s an argument – and not an unreasonable one – that the band have been stuck in something of a rut ever since, repeating the same old formula, to ever-diminishing creative (if not commercial) returns.

For although Character was, in my opinion at least, a worthy enough follow-up to Damage Done, Fiction was effectively just a brace of crowd-pleasing singles surrounded by a wealth of generally solid, but not necessarily stunning, material. And while We Are The Void hinted in places (such as the icy, blackened “Arkhangelsk” and the darkly atmospheric “Iridium”) at burgeoning changes to come, neither it, nor the disappointingly average Construct, managed to capitalise on this potential in order to fully reignite the band’s creative fires.

So the question now is, does Atoma signal another long-awaited, and long-overdue, renaissance from the Gothenburg alchemists?




The short answer is… no, not really. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad album, it’s just not the big step I/we hoped it would be.

That being said, it’s definitely a step up from Construct, and the band (now featuring new bassist Anders Iwers, but minus the now-departed Martin Henriksson) generally sound just that little bit more lively and awake than they have for a while.

It helps of course that the backbone of the album is built around a brace of strong (if not always groundbreaking) tracks that have much more energy and vitality than the last time we had this dance, and songs like the moodily metallic “Encircled” (which is easily the band’s strongest opener since “The New Build”) and the rip-roaring “Neutrality” are almost worth the price of admission on their own.

Elsewhere the band kick out the jams with style on numbers like the mercurial, Projector-esque title-track and the brooding “Faithless By Default”, and though there are a few songs – “Forward Momentum”, “The Pitiless”, “Our Proof Of Life” – which feel a little too stock and familiar for comfort (some of the vocal melodies in particular seem to have been almost recycled wholesale), there are also moments – the gloomy intensity of “Force of Hand”, the pulsing hookiness of “Clearing Skies” – which hint at greater things, even if the album as a whole still seems to lack that certain spark or x-factor needed to really push things to the next level.

Now I’m aware that there’s a certain segment of Dark Tranquillity fandom who are, shall we say, a little rabid in their worship of the band, and I’m sure many of them have already penned their angry rebuttal to what I’ve written here, and will be letting me know about their displeasure in fairly short order. But while these sorts of people (and, let’s be honest, there’s some in every band’s fanbase) can be driven into a raging apoplexy at even the slightest implied criticism of their heroes, I’m operating under the assumption here that the majority of our readers are willing to accept and appreciate a more measured take on things that doesn’t just blindly flatter and fawn over a band simply because they’re a big deal.

And make no mistake, Dark Tranquillity are very much still “a big deal”, and deservedly so. It’s just that Atoma isn’t their best work.

But nor is it their worst, and although it doesn’t quite manage to break them out of their comfort zone (you could easily take the best tracks from here and mix them in with the best of Character, Fiction, et al without missing a beat), it’s good to see that the band still have a fire in their belly and can still rock a lean, mean riff or two when they want… even if it looks like we might have to wait a little while longer for their next paradigm shift.

Atoma will be released on November 4 by Century Media.



  19 Responses to “DARK TRANQUILLITY: “ATOMA””

  1. Fiction was overrated? No. I love that record. Good review though, even if I disagree on that point.

    • Totally fine if you love it. There’s some great songs on there. But it does seem to get most of its love, from most people anyway, because of the singles being a big deal… hence “slightly overrated” in the sense that it’s rarely judged on its overall quality, and more from a skewed perspective brought on by those particular songs.

  2. Yeah, this is pretty much what I was expecting this album to be. I’ve heard the two singles released up to this point, and they’re both stronger than what an equivalent track on Construct would be, but hardly stepping into new territory.

    I always thought it was Character that got all the love and fewer people who still liked them on Fiction, actually. Granted, it’s pretty easy to see why – I love Fiction, but Character is just loaded with adrenaline and has some of their best material.

    • “Character” tends to get the deeper love, for having more “deep cuts” and (I think) being overall of a higher, and more consistent, quality. But when it comes to fame and hype, it’s definitely “Fiction” that takes the cake, even though the album as a whole hasn’t stood up anywhere near as well to the test of time.

  3. The problem is just that I wouldn’t expect a band like DT to ever break any new ground, really. Their sound has varied from album to album, sure, but they’ve always been a melodic extreme band (of some sort) at their core. I’m not sure what people are looking for when it comes to this band. Nice review, though.

    • New ground entirely? No-one’s expecting that. We don’t want them to turn into an entirely different band. But new ground WITHIN their own style? That’s a different story, and it’s something they’ve done several times before now to great effect.

      I would say that, for a lot of fans, what they’re looking for tends to be pretty “safe” when it comes to Dark Tranquillity. That’s not a shot at the band by any means, but I do tend to see a lot of people lauding even the band’s most average material as some sort of masterpiece, simply because it seems a lot of their fans have quite low expectations!

      I’ve already seen quite a few 9/10 reviews for this one which… yeah, does not really compute. It’s again that idea that a band of a certain size “deserves” a big score, just because they’re a big and well-loved band. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving a big band a 6 or a 7 – that’s still above average – but I see far too many reviews where the writer has clearly decided to give the band a good score regardless, simply because that’s what’s expected of them. In fact, I’ve got a column which should be out this week which covers this very topic…

      • How much of that do you think is the writer giving a default high score to a big band because of their fame and following as opposed to the writer being inadvertently pressured to overrate the band because that writer might not enjoy the same level of independence you guys have at NCS? Do more commercial metal sites have an interest in keeping the big labels happy? I honestly don’t know and don’t want to allege any shadiness where there may be none, but would be curious to hear your (or anyone’s) take on that.

        • Oh, no, that definitely happens as well. Depending on the PR company/label I have known of certain writers and certain sites being blacklisted or denied certain promos simply because they had the gall to give a certain album a bad score or be critical of it. And I am entirely certain that not only do a lot of sites/writers know this, but that lots of them give out shamelessly inflated scores in order to butter up the labels (and massage their own egos in the process).

          It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way of things I’m afraid.

  4. DT was once my go-to Swedish death metal band. But things went downhill for my tastes after The Mind’s I, and I stopped listening altogether after Character. The Gallery is such a groundbreaking piece of art, and the The Mind’s I a superb extension of it, but DT have never reached those highs since; not even close.

    Come to think of it, ever since Stanne started to use his clean voice, I lost interest.

    • Funnily enough, I personally think that “The Gallery” is a little overrated as well. It’s seminal, no doubt about it, and really MADE the band’s career in those early days, but in hindsight the songwriting is a bit rough and scrappy, and the quality isn’t consistent all the way through. But people often have trouble distinguishing between when an album is “important” and when an album is actually “great” imo.

      Of course it’s all subjective in the end, but I do have a fun little column (as I mentioned above) on the weird way that metal fans treat certain albums as “sacred” and inviolable coming up this week.

      • Of course it’s all subjective. But there’s nothing sacred about this to me.I happened upon The Gallery in a period of my life when I was still dicovering metal. This album made such an impact on me that it shaped my taste in music, and even my taste in music making (I played bass on stage for 12+ years, and still working on and off a one man project). This was all in a time where the WWW didn’t really exist, and I’ve never read many metal mags, so I think my love for this album and the one following it are only slightly influenced by others. Someone must have recommended DT to me in 1995, but it probably stopped there. I had other fav albums from that time, but none have stood the test of time as well as The Gallery.

        /rant off.

      • How can something be seminal and overrated at the same time?

        • Oh, quite easily. Seminal is generally used to mean something striking and important. For example, the early Iron Maiden albums were truly seminal records. But they’re not necessarily GREAT records in hindsight (greatness would come later of course). But people can (and it’s entirely understandable) often overrate something because of its importance, and because of its influence, rather than its actual overall quality.

          • Wow ok.
            I couldn’t agree on the first post, now you go on and dig down deeper by making an even worse case hahah.

            • Fair enough. It still seems pretty self-evident to me that an album can be considered “seminal” without it necessarily being the band’s best work. Lots of bands have gone on to produce records which are in many ways superior to their most “famous” (or infamous) piece of work, even if their seminal album still remains the most important. It’s all about context and cultural impact.

              • Agreed. The part I stuttered on is the “overrated”. To me, people claim seminal albums as overrated weren’t there when they came out and are not in sync with it’s context and cultural impact incidently.

  5. Good to read Atoma’s a little step upward from Construct. I’m fanboy enough to know I’ll probably sink my teeth deep into this record just because it is DT, but not quite to the point that I cannot acknowledge that their latter three records were not on par with the rest in terms of ceativity and overall songwriting (even though Iridium and None Becoming are among my favorite DT songs).

    Anyway, looking forward to having a crack at this album myself. Thanks for the good read as always, Andy.

  6. You mean there are people that didn’t tune out after Damage Done? Why????

    • Lol, that’s my reaction. The bits and pieces I’ve heard after Damage Done all sound the same. It’s a shame, because Projector and Haven showed that the band was still growing a lot…. then they just stopped.

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